Photo: In this photo provided by the Tucson Fire Department, personnel work to control the hazardous material leak and brush fire incidents at Rita Rd. and Interstate 10 near Tucson, Ariz.
There is no timetable for reopening part of the main southern Arizona highway southeast of downtown Tucson, officials said Wednesday afternoon, a day after a deadly desert crash caused a hazardous material leak and forced evacuations nearby.
Less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) of Interstate 10 were still closed in both directions between Kolb and Rita roads after a truck tractor pulling a box trailer crashed Tuesday afternoon.
Residents within a half-mile (800 meters) of the crash initially were told to leave, and those within 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) were told to shelter in place after liquid nitric acid was determined to be leaking from the wreck, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said. The shelter-in-place order was extended to 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) Wednesday morning after more nitric acid was released as crews tried to remove the load, then reduced again to 1 mile by mid afternoon.
Area residents were told to turn off heaters and air conditioning systems that bring in outside air.
The acid sent up eerie yellow and red plumes over a section of the asphalt roadway that runs through dry land scattered with scrub brush. The interstate stretches across the entirety of southern Arizona in its nearly 2,500 mile (4,023 kilometer) coast-to-coast sweep from Santa Monica, California, to Jacksonville, Florida.
Officials have been dealing with Arizona’s hazardous crash as Ohio residents continue to raise concerns about the release of toxic chemicals on board a freight train that derailed Feb. 3 and left 50 cars in a fiery, mangled mess. There were no injuries but officials later ordered the evacuation of the immediate area. Residents in that state worried about the potential health impacts from the wreckage.
Winter weather temporarily impeded hazardous material recovery and mitigation efforts overnight, but by Wednesday morning, officials said the material had been removed from the truck and crews were using dirt to keep more nitric acid from being released.
The driver of the truck was killed, the department said, but few other details were released.
The agency warned Tucson-area drivers early on to anticipate traffic delays in and around I-10.
“This will be an extended closure,” it said in a tweet Tuesday evening.
The University of Arizona Tech Park was among the areas evacuated. Some schoolchildren in Rita Ranch were among those who sheltered in place, the Arizona Daily Star reported. Officials canceled classes at several nearby schools Wednesday.
A high school that was ordered closed, a mobile home park for older adults and an RV resort are located less than a mile from the accident site. Calls left for managers at the Trails West Active Adult Community and Voyager RV Resort & Hotel seeking information about whether people had been affected were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Nitric acid is used to make ammonium nitrate for fertilizers and in the manufacture of plastics and dyes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website says nitric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless liquid with yellow or red fumes and can cause an acrid smell.
It says exposure to nitric acid can irritate the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Depending on how long someone is exposed to the material, and how much, it also can cause delayed pulmonary edema, pneumonitis, bronchitis and dental erosion.
Pima County’s health department and poison control center on Wednesday recommended that anyone who may have been in contact with the gas for more than 15 minutes get a medical evaluation if they develop respiratory difficulties like wheezing or shortness of breath. They said symptoms could be delayed up to 24 hours after exposure.
Health officials said it is possible that some people living within a mile of the accident may have been exposed to the material for more than 15 minutes if the building where they were sheltering in place was using an air conditioner or heater pulling in air from the outside. But they said people who simply drove through or past the accident and chemical plume should not have been affected.